Three months after the ships had embarked from the port of Greenhithe, England, five of the original crew members had returned, having been sent home. But the remaining 129 men were never heard from again. Indeed, their fate was a mystery for more than a century.
Early expeditions to track down Franklin’s crew in the 1850s did locate a few clues to their whereabouts, however. A team of American and British explorers found an abandoned campsite on Beechey Island, a tiny parcel of land in the Canadian Arctic. What’s more, the discovery soon led them to three graves, dated some four years prior and purportedly belonging to Franklin’s crew.
Search teams on these earliest voyages also found notes indicating what may have happened to Franklin’s crew. It seemed that the vessels had run into ice in 1846. However, instead of investigating further, the search party returned home. And while other shreds of evidence came to light, they were all just pieces of an incomplete puzzle.